Springtime, 2020. COVID-19, the new Coronavirus, is keeping people all over the world in their homes, in fear. It is an intense time that we are all going to remember – and the biggest question of all is what the future is going to look like.
I wrote these two pieces on Facebook. Maybe they hold something for you. I wish you much strength, love and faith – especially if you are alone, sick, or feeling afraid. I’m thinking of you!
My child is afraid. Afraid of the police at the border. Afraid that we’re all going to be sick and die – like his grandfather did last year. Afraid to leave the house, afraid that it will no longer be there when he gets back. His world is tumbling, everything is skewed. He does not know the word Apocalypse yet, but I think it’s what he feels. Doom. Damocles. These are difficult things for an overthinking child. Not only is everything falling away that he considers normal in his small world, the big world is acting funny too. The grown ups tell him not to worry, that he is safe, that we are healthy. But he hardly believes half of what we’re saying. Why then is he not allowed to visit our neighbor (who’s 80)? Why can’t he go to school? Cross the border to the Netherlands? If everything is not so bad, why is everything so weird?
I am afraid too, sometimes. Not of falling sick or dying. Not even of losing someone – as heartwrenching as that can be, it is part of living. I do not fear grief, for I know my strength. My fear is for my child. Because no matter how resilient children can be, this one needs all his resilience for the ordinary things. They are big enough already. This? This is way, way bigger than ordinary. There is so much fear around him that he cannot not feel. And I feel the responsibility that is mine, ours. To be honest, and yet optimistic. To allow ourselves to feel all that it is we feel, and still to create safety. Emotional safety. All of my own skepticism needs to go overboard. I myself need to believe that on a deep level, we are really truly okay.
I hope that someday he will look back on these times and remember not how afraid, but how safe he felt. When you’re seven, that is the shape your memories easily take – the one of how you felt. I hope he remembers that the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and that we built marble tracks together and played shadow tag in the forest. That there was beauty in the world, despite all the darkness. That the world kept turning, not ruthlessly but powerfully, stubbornly, gorgeously. I hope that this is what we all learn: that love is the driving force behind the universe, behind us, and that we can choose it over and over again. Even when it’s dark. Especially when it’s dark.
Just a word (alright, a few words) about fear. Because there is so much of it nowadays. What should I fear more: senior citizens on park benches, or a totalitarian regime? Coronavirus, or Bill Gates’ vaccine? 5G, or a world without social media? Climate change, or taxes? The commies or the nazis? We all have our own unique fear-cocktail.
Fear in itself is fine. Functional. Evolutionary speaking, it enabled us to survive on the tundra. You’d better be afraid of that cave bear! What is not functional, is anxiety. Rumination. Endless worrying. Being scared all the time is exhausting – just ask anyone with an anxiety disorder. Today however, we’re all dealing with it. Of course, things have always existed that we should fear. But often we are able to keep the panic at bay: it’s all happening far far away and we are not suffering immediate consequences. The evening news can be a lot like a history class: very sad and horrible, but not here and not now. Only now? Very much here and now. And everywhere.
There are some real threats in the world today. And thanks to the internet, we are all continuously being informed. Your fears are handed to you on a platter – the color of the platter depending on the one who’s handing it to you. The media are not really helping – talking about the battle, or the frontline, or the ‘monster’ is only making us more scared.
In its purest form, Fear is a call to action. “You are being threatened, do something!”. At which point you are supposed to in fact do something to get yourself to safety, so Fear can get back into its den and the lifesaving hormone boost of adrenaline and cortisol can ease down. If this process can take place without interruption, everything is fine. Nature runs its course and does it well. Things are starting to be problematic when we cannot act: if we are unable to fight or flee. What if nowhere seems safe anymore? When we feel incapable of responding to whatever threatens us, despair and trauma lurk.
We often feel powerless, these days. A toy of fate, maybe. Everything just seems to be happening to us and we think there is nothing we can do about it. So we do what we do best: we share all the information we get on Facebook and Twitter, so at least it feels like we’re doing something. And indeed we are: We’re spreading our fears to the people who rely on our platter for their information. I do it too. ‘Everyone has to read this!’, I think. Click. There, I contributed. But it’s counterproductive, really. Because yes, I’m relieved, for a second. But now it’s on your plate. One more thing for you to worry about.
But what then? How can you not be afraid? The truth is, I don’t think you have to be not afraid. Fear is fine, for a moment. Look at your fear, hear what it says, and choose your next step consciously. Do something to make your anxiety drop. When you feel afraid, get yourself to safety. Physically, by taking care of your body as well as you can. Eat healthy foods, wash your hands, wear a mask if it calms you down. Mentally, by making sure not to overload yourself with information that feeds your fears. Focus on the things you can control – your own thoughts, foremost. Emotionally, by asking for support if you need it. Spiritually, by connecting to the things that hold meaning for you. And finally, let go of your fear, for now. Another moment of fear will come. You won’t have to do anything to make that happen. In the meantime, focus on what is good for you.
Stay informed, but limit the amount of information you take in. Find silence, within you or without. Go into nature, even if it’s only your own backyard or the flowers on your balcony or in your windowsill. Plant something and watch it grow as you give it light, water and attention. Walk barefoot. Be grateful for something. Start growing your own food – there is no more radical act of love and rebellion. Move. Sing. Love. And, stubbornly, have faith.